Slide to Freedom
20,000 Miles (Northern Blues, 2011)
Slide to Freedom is a multinational band that brings together acoustic blues and Indian classical music. The Canadian band was formed by multi-instrumentalist Doug Cox on steel guitar, Indian classical music maestro Salil Bhatt on the satvik veena and Cassius Khan on table.
The band immersed itself in the music of the American South by flying to Memphis, Tennessee, where the new album, 20,000 Miles, was recorded. Memphis is a historic blues town and a key element in the migration of blues from the south to the north, up the Mississippi River.
In Memphis, Slide to Freedom were joined by several guest musicians who brought the sacred music and Americana traditions of the South: sacred steel master Calvin Cooke, members of electric gospel legends The Campbell Brothers, and Austin-based singer-songwriter BettySoo,
Fans of the rootsy and sometimes lonesome slide guitar sound will have a feast with the sounds of Cox’s resophonic guitar, Cooke’s sacred steel and Salil Bhatt’s satvik veena, which is a hybrid between a slide guitar and the traditional Indian veena.
“Down in Memphis, we had three members of the Campbell Brothers, though the whole band came to watch. We had Calvin Cooke, a Korean-American singer, two guys from India, and a white guy, me,” Cox laughs. “When we were setting up, someone called Boo Mitchell,” the second-generation head of the legendary Royal Recording Studios. “They asked who he was recording, and he answered, ‘The Rainbow Coalition!’”
The musicians performed new pieces in sacred steel form as well as Northern Indian ghazals and
surprising covers of songs by Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, and The Zombies. “At the start of the Memphis session, you could feel the different players ripple in and out of confidence, between riffing and tiptoeing because they didn’t want to stomp all over each other,” Soo recalls. “We were all trying to get an idea of where the person would go next. But at the end of the day, everyone let loose. It was magical.”
“Salil has the ability to reach out to audiences that might not be able sit still for Indian Classical music,” Cox explains. “He was playing to reach out to North Americans in a new way, rather than just responding. Together, we found a way to make both traditions more compact and accessible to new listeners.”
“With our Indian Classical background, Salil and I had to retain the appropriate feel, while leaving room for Doug’s input. For the ghazal (‘Anjuman’), we all had to remain more traditional,” says Khan, a rare perfomer who can play tabla and sing at the same time. “But for many of the other compositions, we three relied on our uncanny intuition. We winked through it and jumped in with both feet.”
With 20,000 Miles, Slide to Freedom has successfully brought together the ancient traditions of India and the American south, creating a well-deserved respect for the fascinating sounds of the slide guitar. It’s a superb album of intercontinental musical collaboration at its finest.